It’s a cold, dark night and a white light beckons in the distance. We’re drawn to it, like a moth to the flame, acknowledging how it signifies the evening’s potential for adventure. Perhaps that image is the bat signal, or maybe it’s just the marquee of the club that we’re loading in to. Gosh, I hope there’s parking. It demands that we assume a particular personality; that we bring our keen senses and a well-developed ability to whatever raucous events may take place. In other words, it’s time to get ready for the gig. We load in, sound check, and somehow transform into a different version of ourselves… the performer, the bass player. We shift from our everyday Bruce Wayne, the person that works in an office or drives a truck or takes care of a family, and we morph into a creature of the night, one that is fueled by a dark passion and performs for the greater good of society. Okay, okay, maybe we’re in it for other reasons, but still… the point is, we make an obvious transformation the moment we play our first note.
This ability to go from one version of the self to another is miraculous and unique. We go into performance mode, accessing the creative and instinct-driven part of our brain. It can happen almost anywhere: on the stage, in the studio, or even in your practice space if you’re having a particularly “on” kind of day… it is simply the moment when we realize that we’re fulfilling the identity of the player that we want to be. This transformation can even happen within a gig—you can go about your business, playing the songs on the setlist, and then bam: you’re given a solo. You go from a foundational role to an identity-based one, where the solo that you play is far more personal than the bass line to the song. You are recognized and given a moment to be heard over everyone else, you’re the Batman that just received 24 bars to take care of business. This may not happen every night, but when it does, it’s empowering to be able to throw down, express your musicality, and then gracefully return to your every-day self.
The musicians that I find most amazing are those who not only shift from person to performer or from section to solo but from genre to genre. They are able to excel in various scenarios by tapping into a different musical personality that they’ve developed. Session players like Lee Sklar, Nathan East, and Pino Palladino are masters of this transformation. That’s why their names are listed on thousands of records and why you can see the same bass player alongside John Mayer, The Who, and Nine Inch Nails. They practiced, studied, and played enough music to know how to adapt to any gig or session. If your goal as a player is to be a well-rounded, ready-for-anything kind of musician, then every song you learn factors into your ability to transform. The more you know, the more you’ll be able to recall, and the more successful you’ll be at execution.
Lucky for us, we can do most of our practicing in a bedroom or basement, rather than in an isolated barn full of creepy ninjas. We have access to millions of recordings and can work our way through any artists’ catalog. Then, when the time comes to play a top 40 gig, we’ve got both the Bruno Mars and The Temptations tunes in our back pocket. If we then find ourselves in an original band where we can to contribute to the music, we’ll have the extent of our musical background to pull from. We can also learn how to practice for the moment of transformation: for the moment of taking a solo or performing our original material. If your goal is to become a soloist, try to play through a tune and envision solos given to the other players and then to yourself. Take a few choruses, develop an idea, and then figure out how to get back to square one. When it comes to original material, the key is to perform it over and over again so that you fully and completely own the song. Do it enough so that you can play it with your eyes closed and feel comfortable performing it to a room of three, thirty, or three thousand people.
Remember that the second we being to play, we’re representing all of the years of listening and playing that we’ve ever done. We become the Batman who battled everyone from street thugs to The Joker. Eventually, we make our way home, go back to our mansions, and enjoy being a misunderstood multi-millionaire. Or maybe we just take it easy after the gig and watch a show on Netflix.